Test cultivation of space vegetables in Nunavut | Polarjournal
Tomato plants and lettuce thrive magnificently under LED light in the heated container near the Arctic community of Gjoa Haven. After only four weeks harvest is on. According to the Canadian Space Agency, vegetables will soon grow in space, following this model. Photo: Arctic Research Foundation

Since last autumn, lettuce and tomatoes have been growing near the Arctic community of Gjoa Haven in Nunavut, Canada, albeit under slightly different conditions than in our latitudes. A shipping container serves as a greenhouse here and the electricity for light and heat is supplied by two wind turbines and solar panels. This successful cultivation experiment is a project of the Arctic Research Foundation. Now the Canadian Space Agency is also launching a test project.

Fresh vegetables on the moon or Mars? The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) wants to pave the way for the cultivation of fresh food for future astronauts with its four-year greenhouse project in Gjoa Haven, which has been planned for four years and costs 450,000 dollars.
The community of about 1,500 people in Nunavut, Canada, is ideally suited to the development of space food production systems, according to the CSA, as the harsh climatic conditions are similar to those in space. In addition, Gjoa Haven is secluded on King William Island, there is hardly any vegetation, the summers are short and mostly cloudy, the winters dark and cold – all in all probably the way one imagines a “moon landscape” and the ideal place to develop and test plant production systems, according to the CSA.

Gjoa Haven on King William Island. According to the CSA, the secluded location in Nunavut is ideal for the development of space plant production systems. Photo: Tristan in Ottawa, Wikimedia

There are many similarities with the harsh and cold environment of space that can show how astronauts can be supported in extreme weather, Matthew Bamsey, a senior engineer in program management at the CSA, told Nunatsiaq News.

The plants grow in a suitably adapted shipping container and the project is also intended to show how to maximize the amount of plants that can be grown in the smallest space, according to Bamsey. They would not grow in containers on the moon or Mars, he adds, but perhaps in similar modules on the International Space Station.

Now the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is working with the greenhouse operators to develop a curriculum dedicated to studying space-related food production. Scientists and technicians will participate in this programme in cooperation with technical trainers and the Nunavutcommunity community. The project will allow scientists to learn more about food production in a remote environment and in extreme weather conditions. Ultimately, the goal is for these research results to be applied in space.

The greenhouse container of the project “Naurvik”, which started in autumn 2019. The Canadian Space Agency, in collaboration with the Arctic Research Foundation, aims to optimize the cultivation of food in inhospitable regions. Photo: Thomas Surian

However, the CSA project will not only benefit future space missions, but will also help earth, improving the food security of the local population and boosting the local economy. Nearly 70% of households in Nunavut face moderate to high food insecurity and lack access to healthy and affordable food, according to a study by Action Canada. The creation of new jobs is an important building block for improving the situation — the CSA recently asked for services for the training and development of skilled workers for the operation of greenhouses.

“The Canadian government will look for ways to improve food accessibility across the country, including the North, with the aim of using these experiences to help astronauts grow food from Earth,” Bamsey said.

The “Naurvik” project, initiated by the Arctic Research Foundation and supported by the CSA, which means “growing place” in Inuinnaqtun, has been delivering delicious fresh vegetables since November last year. In the future, so much will be grown in several containers that the municipality can export its harvest.

The idea of using Nunavut as a proxy for the moon or Mars has been discussed for some time. As part of the Haughton Mars project, a greenhouse was already operated on the island of Devon in the early 2000s. According to Bamsey, the greenhouse was successful at the time, but with one difference: “There were no people directly involved.” For most of the year, the greenhouse, which is now mothballed, was controlled from a distance.

By 2025, the CSA aims to develop a plan for food production in space and involve community members.

Julia Hager, PolarJournal

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